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  • French Polynesia
  • Lorenz Gonschor

The most important events during the year under review were the territorial elections of late April and early May 2018, in which Édouard Fritch, after essentially ruling as a usurper for the last four years, was able to consolidate his power as the country's new strong-man by receiving a democratic mandate. Besides the elections, the period [End Page 194] remained relatively calm and without major upheavals. While the tourism economy seems to be slowly recovering, two controversial economic mega-projects remain hotly debated. On the international level, French defiance of UN resolutions on the territory appears to continue unabated under the Macron administration.

The review period began with a new boost of international acknowledgment for the country, and by extension the Pacific region at large, when on 9 July the Executive Council of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (unesco), at a meeting in Krakow, Poland, declared Marae Taputapuatea, a historical temple complex on the island of Raiatea, a World Heritage Site. For several years, cultural organizations on Raiatea as well as several local politicians had been campaigning for the temple's listing, and with their lobbying the nomination of the site slowly progressed. For the final decision, both the President of French Polynesia Édouard Fritch and the mayor of the Taputapuatea municipality on Raiatea, Thomas Moutame, traveled to Krakow to be present at the historic occasion (ti, 9 July 2017).

Marae Taputapuatea is an outstanding example of Polynesian megalithic architecture, with walls made out of coral stone slabs of a height of up to 3.5 meters each. The temple complex also has a regional importance that transcends today's political boundaries, as it was one of the most important spiritual and cultural centers of Eastern Polynesia during the centuries before European contact, with oral histories and temple names in other parts of French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, Aotearoa/New Zealand, and Hawai'i referring to the site.

The inscription of Taputapuatea as a World Heritage Site marks what is so far the highest level of increasing institutional recognition of traditional Polynesian culture and spirituality. While Christian influence had for about two centuries obscured and denigrated many aspects of that culture, it is increasingly coming back in full force (Saura 2009). During the review period, one of the leading figures in the contemporary spiritual revival movement, Sunny Moanaura Walker—who unapologetically identifies as a "pagan"—gained widespread recognition when a known local author published a biography about him (Ariirau 2017).

A more problematic aspect of Taputapuatea's world heritage listing, however, is that as long as the country remains a French dependency, unesco considers France, not the country government, as the state party responsible for the site. In consequence, Taputapuatea is now listed as a "French" heritage site on unesco's website alongside such monuments as the Cathedral of Reims and the Palace of Versailles (unesco 2018), reinforcing France's colonial claim over the site rather than identifying it as a pan-Polynesian monument.

Meanwhile, the country's unresolved decolonization continued to be hotly debated within other UN agencies. During the annual hearings before the UN Decolonization Committee in New York at the beginning of October, the political status of French Polynesia was once again a subject of contention. President Fritch testified repeatedly that his country [End Page 195] was fulfilling all of the conditions of a self-governing country and should therefore be removed from the list of territories to be decolonized. However, since the country government actually only has administrative but no sovereign powers, which remain France's exclusive prerogatives, the president earned little recognition. Accordingly, the Overseas Territories Review blog stated that Fritch's statements were nothing more than "Colonial Accomodationist Antics" (otr, 4 Oct 2017). The fifteen other representatives of French Polynesia who testified at the hearing all agreed and condemned their president and France's refusal to cooperate with the UN decolonization agencies (otr, 4 Oct 2017; rnz, 6 Oct 2017).

In late November, this assessment received additional confirmation when the International Olympic Committee (ioc) in Lausanne, Switzerland, responded to a request for subsidies to the local Olympic Committee of French Polynesia. The ioc stated that...


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